What is cholesterol?
You’ve probably heard the term cholesterol numerous times in your life. Cholesterol levels are commonly tested at the doctor and it’s on your food labels, but what is it really? And is it always bad for you?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the cells of our body. It’s crucial for the normal functioning of our body, but too much can build up in our arteries and lead to health problems such as heart disease. There are two main places it comes from: our liver and the food we eat.
What’s the difference between good and bad cholesterol?
Though it seems complex, cholesterol can be divided into two categories: good (HDL) and bad (LDL).
Good cholesterol helps remove excess cholesterol from the blood and carry it back to the liver, where it can be broken down and removed. Bad cholesterol can build up in the walls of our arteries, leading to the formation of plaque.
Cholesterol is not always a bad thing, but it’s important to recognize what food items are high in LDL so that you can limit or avoid them in your everyday diet.
High Cholesterol Foods
Here are eight foods that are high in LDL:
- Fatty Meats: Beef, pork, and lamb are all high in saturated and trans fats.
- Processed Meats: Deli meats, hot dogs, and bacon are high in saturated and trans fats, as well as sodium.
- Fried Foods
- Ice Cream
- Baked Goods: Cookies, cakes, and pastries are often made with butter, which is high in saturated fat.
- Fast Food
It can seem daunting to avoid these foods, but limiting them can help decrease LDL levels on your next blood panel. There are tips and tricks you can follow to make healthy fast food substitutions, as well as lessen cholesterol in your baked goods and cooking.
Here are eight foods that are high in HDL:
- Fatty Fish: Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can increase HDL levels.
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, and peanuts
- Seeds: chia seeds, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds
- Olive Oil
- Whole Grains: oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, etc.
- Legumes: beans, lentils, and chickpeas
- Fruits and Vegetables: fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients that can help increase HDL cholesterol levels. Some good options include berries, citrus fruits, apples, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
Healthy Ways to Lower LDL Levels
Cholesterol levels have to do with diet as well as exercise.
- Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet: avoiding foods high in LDL is a great start; furthermore, there are also tons of recipes for heart health that you can follow at home.
- Exercise Regularly: Regular physical activity can help lower LDL levels and increase HDL levels. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.
- Quit Smoking: Smoking can lower HDL levels and increase the risk of heart disease.
- Manage Your Weight: Being overweight or obese can increase LDL levels. Losing weight through healthy eating and exercise can help improve lab results and overall health.
- Limit Saturated and Trans Fats: Saturated and trans fats can increase LDL levels. Limit your intake of these fats by choosing lean proteins and low-fat dairy products. Instead, choose healthier fats like those found in nuts, seeds, fish, and olive oil.